EU PROTECTS > Our Society > From war-stricken Syria to safety: How the EU helped a refugee build a new life in the Netherlands

“The war changed everything in Aleppo. I left, not knowing when my family would be reunited.”

Zakaria Alo

In 2012, with the civil war raging in his country, Zakaria Alo, his parents and brothers left behind their family bakery in Aleppo and fled their home in search of a better future. For Zakaria, it was the beginning of a long and dangerous journey through Lebanon and Turkey to Greece in 2016. Once in Greece, Zakaria was relocated with his 2 younger brothers to the Netherlands. This was possible thanks to a new EU scheme, offering asylum seekers like him a safe and legal pathway to Europe. 

Between 2015 and 2017, EU and national asylum services, along with local NGOs, worked together to relocate refugees and ensure their safety and integration in the EU. Today, 30-year-old Zakaria lives in the Netherlands, where he has started to move beyond the trauma of war to a new chapter of his life.  

Ultimately, Europe is safer when it makes migrants, particularly refugees escaping conflict, feel safe and willing to contribute to our societies.

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From war-stricken Syria to safety: How the EU helped a refugee build a new life in the Netherlands

Refugees fleeing war zones and persecution cannot usually return home and are in need of protection. For one young Syrian, finding a temporary home in Europe depended on the shared effort of EU asylum services, Greek authorities and local volunteers. Follow Zakaria’s journey from Syria, via Greece, to the Netherlands.

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EU Protects: The journey of an asylum seeker

Zakaria Alo

Syrian refugee

The Netherlands

“After leaving Syria, my family spent 4 years in Lebanon. We then went to Turkey, but wanted to get to Greece by crossing into Bulgaria. With money, time and hope running out, my parents thought our best bet was for me to take 2 of my younger brothers on a smuggler’s boat.”

"We managed to get to Greece, where I learnt about an EU relocation programme for refugees. This gave hope to people like us who could not go home and were facing an uncertain future in Greece. I jumped for joy when I heard that my brothers and I were invited by the Netherlands to relocate to Middelburg. It was such a relief!”

“I get along with the people here and like living in Europe. Most haven’t ever met a refugee, and all they know about us is what they see on TV. I work as a cook in a restaurant and I go to school twice a week. I already speak Kurdish, Arabic and English, but I'm taking Dutch classes to become fluent."

“It took time, but we can finally live freely like everyone else in the world. The EU gave us a new beginning.”

 - Zakaria Alo

Esther Pozo-Vera

Spanish, Migration Management Support unit, European Commission

Belgium

“By 2015, Europe was dealing with an influx of refugees. We had to work together to give them a sense of security, while guaranteeing that no EU country would stand alone in handling these migration flows. The relocation programme was a combined effort by the European Commission, EU agencies and international organisations to help European countries most affected by the refugee crisis integrate refugees in the EU.”

“The EU is a collective, and the relocation of refugees is a prime example of solidarity in the midst of global instability.”

 - Esther Pozo-Vera

Ilaria Siggia

EU Asylum Support Office

Italy

“Starting in 2015, my team of migration experts was called to Greece and Italy to work on the EU’s relocation programme. Our objective was to get refugees to apply for legal entry into Europe. We helped process their asylum applications and determine where people could be relocated in Europe.”

“In Greece, I didn’t just support asylum services with the registration process. My team also helped match asylum seekers with specific European countries. We always made sure that no one country was being requested more than the others for relocation.”

“The EU came up with a solution to help people seeking asylum restart their lives, while making sure EU countries receiving refugees were supported.”

 - Ilaria Siggia

Panagiota Peristeri

Greek Asylum Services, Municipality of Alimos

Greece

“From 2015 to 2017, we worked hand in hand with the EU’s asylum office. We checked applications for refugees from places like Syria, verifying people’s documents, specific needs or disabilities. We matched refugees, to the extent possible, with a European country where they already had family, linguistic or cultural ties. Then, we got in touch with national and local organisations and asylum services to ensure a smooth relocation process.”

“I firmly believe that EU-wide cooperation is the only way to deal with such a crisis.”

 - Panagiota Peristeri

Falah Hassan Hussein

Volunteer for the Dutch Council for Refugees

The Netherlands

“We’re about 50 volunteers in the Middelburg branch, which works in tandem with EU asylum services and migration projects.” 

“I met Zakaria in 2017, when he arrived in the Netherlands as part of the EU’s relocation scheme. Right from the beginning Zakaria showed an impressive willingness to integrate. I helped him sign a contract for his apartment, open a bank account, register for health and life insurance and enrol in a Dutch language school.”

“Zakaria didn’t come here to do nothing. He came to the Netherlands to make a new start and be part of our society.”

 - Falah Hassan Hussein

Did you know?

21,847

The number of refugees relocated from Greece to other EU countries between 2015 and 2017.

11,999

The number of refugees relocated from Italy to other EU countries between 2015 and 2017.

€816.5 million

In emergency assistance to Greek authorities, international organisations and NGOs operating in Greece. Starting in early 2015, the EU has provided this amount to help Greece manage the refugee and humanitarian crisis.

71%

The drop in illegal migration to the EU in 2017.

WHO ARE THE OTHER HEROES PROMOTING SOLIDARITY IN EUROPE?

Some of them may even come from your country.

Connected by the EU, there is a network of local heroes working together to help asylum seekers and refugees find safety and stability in Europe and integrate into society. From translators to cultural integration officers, rescue teams to asylum coordinators, discover how the EU supports local heroes in your country.